Jason Hainsworth Big Band / DePaul University Jazz Ensemble / Big Band Ritmo Sinfonica Citta di Verona / Howard University Jazz Ensemble
Neverever . . . is the fourth album by the Mace Francis Orchestra Orchestra from far-off Perth, Australia, the second recorded in front of an audience, this time in July 2008 at the Sound Lounge in Sydney. As on his earlier ventures, Francis and his mates are on the one hand earnestly forward-looking, and on the other securely anchored in Jazz and big-band orthodoxy.
The upshot is music that can be taut and swinging but has more in common with Maria Schneider, Bob Brookmeyer, Gil Evans, Carla Bley and other pace-setters than to such square-shooters as Sammy Nestico, Neal Hefti, Ernie Wilkins, Marty Paich, Bob Florence or even Bill Holman. The ensemble's elaborate charts aren't for the faint of heart or for those whose vigilance is less than unwavering. In other words, these are not tunes that one is likely to leave the concert humming. Francis wrote and arranged four of the nine selections, saxophonist Daniel Thorne three, trombonist Tilman Robinson the other two.
The album opens with Thorne's rhythmic, chorale-like "Neverever" and closes with his even-tempered "Over and Over and Over." Sandwiched between are Francis' "Pine Tree Blisters," Thorne's "What About Jed?" (featuring guitarist Tim Jago), Francis' "Well . . . Maybe Someday," Robinson's "Thinking Without Thinking" and "Where Can I Park My Fist?," another question from Francis ("Where's His Sepcin?") and his throbbing "Jelly Belly." Solos are by and large in the capable hands of Jago, alto Ben Collins, tenors Thorne and Alistair McEvoy, trumpeter Callum G'Froerer and trombonist Percy James Landers. Landers, McEvoy, Thorne and baritone Mark Sprogowski strengthen the orchestra's already-powerful "Fist."
As it rests somewhere between exploratory and well-grounded, Neverever . . . doubtless won't please everyone's musical palate. Gourmets may find it appetizing, others less so. The basic ingredientsmelody, harmony, rhythmare firmly in place, and the orchestra does swing, albeit randomly. As we wrote of Francis in reviewing an earlier album, "The young composer and his orchestra are clearly filling a need for thought-provoking contemporary Jazz in western Australia, and we wish them prosperity and good health."
Arveheim / Berke Upscale Ten
The Stockholm-based Arveheim / Berke Upscale Ten is actually two groups in one: guitarist Johan Berke's Upstairs Five and a brass quintet led by trombonist / tubaist Mattias Arveheim, with compositions and arrangements on Scope by Berke and saxophonist Fredrik Nordstrom.
The music is decidedly modernist, opening with a trio of forward-leaning tone poems by Nordstrom and closing with Berke's forty-minute "Suite No. 1 for Ten Musicians." Nordstrom describes the alliance as "creative and exciting," Arveheim as "challenging." The last would certainly apply, as the various themes call for compendious musical proficiency. Having said that, one must concede that these vignettes are more cerebral than swinging, more cryptic than candid. There are, in fact, times (such as on "Rust-Red") when the music, to these ears, meanders close to irksome.
For the most part, however, this is simply avant-garde Jazz with a taciturn Swedish veneer. There are a number solos but none that inscribes a lasting impression. The improvisations arise naturally from within the group dynamic and are apparently faithful to the composers' broader purpose. Aside from that, there's not much to say about them. The compositions / arrangements tread a similar path in that they are consistently decorous while emphatically removed from memorable. Scope seems primarily aimed toward listeners whose ears are inured to exotic frameworks that stimulate the intellect while leaving the emotions relatively unscathed.
Jentsch Group Large
Fleur de Son Records
Based on his first four recordings, one might reasonably suspect that guitarist Chris Jentsch has a "suite" tooth. On the heels of his well-received Brooklyn Suite and earlier Miami Suite, Jentsch and his New York-based Group Large have reappeared to introduce his Cycles Suite, designed, in his words, "as a meditation on one's own life cycle and the important connections with the cycles of others."
The expansive series is divided into half a dozen more tenable episodes: "Arrival," "Cycle of Life," "Home and Away," "Old Folks Song," "Route 666" and "Departure." As on Brooklyn, Jentsch employs a broad range of musical styles from Jazz to rock, world to classical, blues to ballads, appending sound effects whenever appropriate to suit his purpose. If there's an adjective that best describes Jentsch's music, it could well be "sedate." While there are brief exceptions, most notably on "Route 666," Cycles is, by and large, steadfastly low-key.